THE INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEW WITH: Kenneth Munson
ORGANIZATION: Hope Play Party
DATE: August 7, 1987, Folklife Festival
INTERVIEWER: Al Lowman
L: Ken, I know in general, of course, behind the revival of
these play party games that you have been instrumental in,
but for the sake of the record here do you want to put on
tape here the story of, first of all, how these play party
games. First of all, what are play party games, and then
explain how you were instrumental in reviving them?
M: Thank you, AI. The play parties came about, I think, in
nearly all the rural communities in America partly as a
result of the circuit riding preachers saying that dancing
was a sin and the young people had to have something to do,
so they got together and started singing folk songs and soon
began devising games;they called them/to go with those
songs. Of course, those games were slightly related to folk
dancing and slightly related to square dancing but as a
result they soon began singing and dancing but called it
games and the name for it was a play party.
L: And those kinds of games were strong in the community
where you grew up which was Hope, Texas, in Lavaca County?
L: And, so the play party games, though, ultimately faded
away, I suppose as the influence of the preachers began to
be relaxed or diminished in the major denominations that
were opposed to them? I think we are talking about
Baptists, because the Baptists and the Methodists, with the
Presbyterians sort of in a trailing position, were the
strongest denominations, and the Baptists in particular.
M: Especially the Methodists and Presbyterians soon forgot
their prejudice against dancing. And, of course, they
didn't actually go into oblivion though until after radio,
TV and movies came along and the people didn't need
entertainment anymore. They went to a movie rather than
having a play party I think.
L: That's true, or they went to a dance, you know, a
country and western dance or something like that in those
communities and as the prejudices against dancing began to
M: AI, there 's something I just found out down here. There
was a woman in the group that came to me and said "I'm from
Nissouri." No, it was a man and a woman, wasn't it. And
they said that they grew up in Missouri and her grandmother
had told her about these folk games and play parties that
they had when she was young but some of them were different
from the ones we did down there. And someone else in the
crowd said that theirs were different also. And every
community was a little bit different. But they were
L: Well you read, I'm sure, some of those articles in the
Folklore Society Annual that I referred to ... there were
M: Yes, I made copies of Owens' and of Dobie's, J. Frank
Dobie's. And one of his was on play parties in Victoria
County, which is next to Lavaca County. I've been to
parties in Victoria County but theirs were different from
L: So, then, in this particular instance, how did play
party games come to be revived in Hope?
M: They haven't been revived.
L: Well, O.K. Alright, but your brother was a school
superintendent down there? What was he?
M: He has a job in Yoakum, actually. Oh, alright, he had a
lot of children and he taught his children and grandchildren
these songs and games. And it was with his help that I got
the 28 songs together. They lasted longer at Hope than any
other place but they quit having them there also until his
golden wedding anniversary. They had a play party for that.
That's what gave me the idea of gett ing together.
L : It was your brother's 50th wedding anniversary and who
were the people that were putting them on at this 50th
M: They were mainly his children and grandchildren. And I
had enough of them together to be here last year . But he
had a heart attack and we had to call it off. I went back
M: several times this year trying to get a group together
for this year and couldn't get enough of them together.
L: Children and grandchildren, or people in the community?
M: Both. I couldn't get enough together that could be here
for this, so I finally got the idea of teaching the MYF in
San Marcos and getting them to do it.
L: How many do you have over here today?
M: There are 15 counting me. There are six couples and one
extra boy, 13 participating.
L: Is that enough, you know, to be able •.• ?
M: Ten would be a minimal, in other words, five couples is
L: I had somewhat misremembered the story there, about it
being your brother's children and grandchildren who did
these. So, what then has become the, well, the outgrowth so
to speak? Have you had any other expressions particularly
of interest in this? I know you have an article that's
about to be published in the Texas Folk Society Annual on
play party games in Lavaca County.
M: Really, I haven't. I don't know of anyone else that is
particularly intere sted. However, that's one reason I
wanted to have it here at the Folklife Festival, because
maybe we can get some people interested in it, because it's
such a good form of exercise and something it would be good
to have in PE classes, for instance. Or in elementary music
M: classes. Something like that would be a wonderful
place for these to take place.
L: What do you perceive has been the response from these
folks, these boys and girls in the MYF? Have they •.. ?
M: They've really had a ball. They've enjoyed it. Of
course, all of them, their parents, have been on vacation
this month so it's been a little bit hard in that I'd have
one group this week and next week a different group and not
enough this time and a few extra boys or a few extra girls ,
and it's been like that all summer. But we suddenly
wednesday night got this group together and that was our
final practice. That are here tonight.
L: All of them show up?
M: All of them showed up. In fact , these 13 boys and
girls, well I'm including Bob and Rachel Barber , all of them
are anxious to be here and anxious to participate, and show
what this is like because they enjoy doing it.
L: Wel l, if they've got an appreciative audience and some
excuse to keep going, which I think the Folklife Festival
does provide, who knows, you may be going to the American
Folklife Festival at the Smithsonian next year.
M: A group ought to do this.
L: I have no idea what they do up there, but it 's entirely
likely that something ... well, I don 't know ..• M: Because,
these weren 't ...
L: They weren't localized.
M: They weren't something that was rust "local. They were
everywhere in America.
L: Again, this is something to be gotten out of the book, I
know, but basically there are two forms of the play party
game, aren't there? There is, you know, the single file,
the double circle , or ... but that's not it.
M: I really don't know how to describe them myself .
However, the game that we use most often started with a
promenade with the girls on the inside and then they did a
right-and-left and then a full swing right-and-left, and we
used that with about 12 different songs at that one game.
We used about 12 different songs but three- fourths, most of
them at least, there is one song and one game. Like the
one we started with tonight was "Oh, Lady Go Center" and
L: That song is where that ..•
M: The game and the game goes with the song.
L: But there are some songs that you can do more than one
M: Yes, that's right.
L: The play party games in Lavaca County that you remember
most vividly, about what years, give me a five year period,
you know, when you remember them most vividly in Hope,
Texas. What years are we talking about?
M: I was a teenager from 1925 to the '30s and that's the
time that I remember.
L: And play party games were going on there?
M: Very much so. The thing about it was/ well/in the
summertime especially when there were more than could
participate in the house we'd hang lanterns out in the trees
and move out into the yard and have it outside and usually
if it was watermelon season we had watermelons. And in the
wintertime, we couldn't move outside very well but only
those that filled the room were enough that the others had
to sit and watch. And usually we'd pop popcorn or
L: What was this 50th wedding anniversary?
M: That was in November '85.
L: Now. You were describing the atmosphere back in the
'20s, talking about you went outside in the summertime,
danced outside by lantern light and ate watermelon and then
I interrupted you. In the wintertime you stayed in the
house and only a limited number perhaps could dance while
the others had to watch. What refreshment did you have
then? Tell me a little bit more about that.
M: Usually , you know, the host didn't necessarily have to
have anything as far as that's concerned. But quite often
they'd have popcorn or something like that in the
wintertime. I don 't rememeber having any other
L: In other words, there was no particular routine or
M: No, and the thing about it was the teenagers usually had
to talk someone into giving a party. That was the term we
used. We'd talk someone into giving a party and the word
went everywhere that there was going to be a party at
so-and-so's house, usually on Saturday night. And everybody
knew that everyone was invited. Anybody that heard about it
could come. In other words, no invitation was required or
L: And, what's the population of Hope today?
M: Practically zero.
L: Practically zero. Do they even have a postoffice any
L: Is there a church nearby?
M: There are two churches still there, the Methodist and
Baptist. They were there when I grew up.
L: Did the Baptists ever take to play party games?
M: As far as I know, they never did condemn play parties.
L: Well, you were trying to organize a group down at Hope
to come here last year.
M: Yes, that's right. But they were mainly my brother's
children and grandchildren.
L: I see, and they just weren't inclined?
M: I had enough of them together to do it last year, that
was when my brother had his heart attack. By the way, he's
doing alright now. But, I couldn't get enough of them
together this year to do it. They all had other things ••• in
M: fact, ten of them were coming but they got involved in
a wedding this weekend.
L: Ra. I've got one of those coming up this weekend, too.
Did I ever ask you about a game called "Snap"?
L: Did we ever talk about it?
L: But I asked you about it.
M: We used to use it alright.
L: But that's not a play party game by the definition, by
the way you're defining play party.
M: That's right. In fact, that's more of a children's
M: Wasn't it?
L: I had the impression that it was, you know, played by
M: I've about forgotten how it was done.
L: That's too bad. Because I was going to ask you about
it. I have read some descriptions of it. I think I follow
it but I can't be altogether sure that I do.
M: We have to take an intermission occasionally, of course,
to get a breather, to get our breath, and we played some
games like "Spin the Bottle" and "Knock, Knock" and
L: In between rounds of play parties.
M: That't right. But I don 't remember playing "Snap".
Yes, I do, especially when we had it outside. And "Drop the
Handkerchief" was one.
L: Yeah , right. I had another question I wanted to ask.
M: On "Knock, Knock" for instance, the girls were inside
and the boys outside and when it was my turn I knocked on
the door and if I guessed by the girl's voice who it was
that answered then I got to walk around the house with her,
in the dark.
L: I think the point that we've not made clearly about play
party games is that these bore a resemblance to square dance
and folk dance routines except that the dancers themselves
sing the tunes. There are no instruments and had there been
instruments, well instruments were considered, you know,
instruments of the devil. I don't quite understand where
that came from because the Bible, you know, has reference to
musical instruments. But, on the s ubjects aside from play
party games, and I'm asking this for an altogether different
reason, did you ever play a game called "Annie Over"?
L: Well, how did you play it?
M: You threw the ball over the house.
L: You had one team on one side of the house and one team
on the other side. Somebody had a ball. A member of which
ever team threw the ball over the house ..• go ahead.
M: And if you caught it ...
L: If a member of the other team then caught it ...
M: Yes. Then they got to come around and throw the ball
and if they hit someone on the other team they got that
person on their team. Is that right? I think that's
L: Don't ask me. I'm seriously asking you.
M: I believe that was the way we did it. We used a rubber
ball, and if we caught the ball •.. if we didn't catch the
ball we had to throw it back, and you'd yell "Annie Over"
and throw it back. If you did catch the ball you went
running around to the other side and threw it to hit
somebody on the other team and got to put him on our team.
The others then went on around to the other side •••
L: Did the teams switch?
M: Whoever you hit had to switch sides.
L: Yeah, OK. That one individual would join the team. And
then the game continued until ...
M: You finally got all that side on your side, or quit.
One or the other. I think that's the way it was done.
L: You threw the ball at somebody. What did they do? Try
to dodge it? Was there a safe area that they could run to?
M: If you could hit them with the ball before they got
around the house well then •..
L: Oh, before they got ••• OK.
M: Yeah, because they were supposed to •.•
L: The person who caught the ball carne around one side of
the house and meanwhile everybody on the o ther team was
trying to run .•.
H: Yeah, but they never knew which side you were corning
around, and part of the team that caught the ball would go
one way and the others the other , so that they wouldn't know
which way the one with the ball was corning.
H: That gave them a chance to get around there and hit
somebody with the ball.
L: In other words, I'm on a team, I catch the ball.
Alright, I'm gonna run around one side of the house to the
other and try to hit somebody on the other team. Hy team,
on the other hand, what are they gonna do? Is my team, part
of it gonna go around one end, part around the other, to try
to confuse them as to which side I'm on? Which end I'm
H: Yes .
L: Alright. And then you throw the ball and try to hit
somebody, but the team that has thrown the ball which has
been caught and is now a target, so to speak, could
they ... here's what I'm driving at. It seems to me that
somebody had told me the way they remembered the game, here
you carne around the corner of the house over here with the
ball and you are fixing to throw it. The people on the
team, then, who were being targeted run over to the side of
L: the house and put their hands against the wall, a safe
place. You were kings-x, or whatever, when that happened .
Somebody else, I think in one of the Folklore Society books
that I rea~indicated that
the side of the house, and
you had the ball, you ran around
you threw the ball right down the
side of the house as hard as you could at everybody who was
still out here outside where the ball had been thrown, who
didn't have their hands on the wall, had to go join the other
team. Did you ever hear of a variant like that? I don't want
to confuse you.
M: Well, I don't really remember, it's been too long. The
way I remember it, we actually hit somebody with the ball,
and that made him have to change sides.
L: Did you ever not hit anybody? Seems that would be a
relatively easy thing to do.
M: Sometimes you didn 't. And usually part of the game was
to throw the ball in s uch a way that it misses on the other
side, t oo. And they had to yell "Annie Over" and throw it
back to you. So to keep my side catching the ball and their
side missing it, you could soon get their players on my
side. As best I remember, that was the way it was done.
L: That has nothing to do with play party games but you see
"Annie Over" was played in Staples and I have an aunt who is
well into her 80s now and her mind is not all that good any
more. She could remember part of it but she could not
remember all of it. She just remembered playing the game and
when I got her to try to describe it to me there were some
L: pretty obvious holes in what she was describing and she
just couldn't ever get it straight.
M: At school, we played "Wolf Over the River" and
"Kick-the -can" and at home we played Hide-and-go-seek of
L: Oh, yeah. You know, even Hide-and-go-seek which I
played when I was a kid, if I tried to describe or recreate
that now there are things about it, you know, that I don't
quite remember. I remember, for instance, that you always
start out with somebody who was "It" who had to go hide
their eyes and count maybe to a hundred while everybody else
went and hid and then you went out to find them and as soon
as you spotted somebody you had to identify them and beat
them back to whatever you know the home base was .
M: Yeah. And 1-2-3 for me. You had to get back and count
1-2-3 for me before he patted you on the back I believe it
was or you were lilt."
L: In other words, if he tagged you/then you were "It."
And the first one he tagged was "It." And then those who
were hiding all got to come back in. And then there was
"Kick-the-Can-Hide-and_Seek." Do you remember ever hitting
M: A little bit but I don't remember exactly.
L: If you hit a can and then had to go pick it up, or
somebody took a stick and hit a can as hard as they could
and knocked it as far as they could whoever was it you know
had to go retrieve the can before he could go out and start,
L: you know, looking for anybody. But, again the hole
there is he is going to see out of the corner of his eye he
is going to see where everybody is hiding so, you know, how
did that work?
M: I don't know.
L: Well, I sure have heard some variant of "Hit the Can" in
the Hide-and-seek game. Well, I think that's about the gist
of what I wanted to get. I was particularly interested in
knowing how those games were .•• how they got revived. And a
little of the background on it , but we'll read a great deal
more background, I know, when your article comes out in the
Folklore Society book here next year.
M: I'm looking forward to that because I understand they're
going to have children's songs and games in that volume, and
some of these other games that we were talking about and
then the Folk Texas Play Party Songs and Games and they
transcribed some of the music for that.
voice: I transcribed all of the music from a recording that
my aunt and uncle made at Hope and I am hoping to receive
permission to publish this collection that my father has
TAPE I, SIDE 2, ABOUT 20 MINUTES.
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